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Discrepancies in China’s Trade Surplus Data with the U.S.

On June 20, the U.S. Treasury Department asked China to explain the discrepancy in its two sets of trade surplus data with the U.S.

Data reported by the Chinese customs office shows China’s trade surplus for 2023 being nearly $230 billion higher than the surplus reported by China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE). In prior years (going back to 2000), the average discrepancy between these two sources of trade surplus data was only $7 billion. The U.S. Treasury Department called on China to provide further quantitative evidence clarifying the issue.

One commentator on China affairs gave three possible explanations for the large discrepancy in 2023 trade surplus data:

  1. The Chinese customs office may have exaggerated the country’s export trade figures.
  2. A large number of export enterprises may have, in preparation for potential exit from China, kept their dollars overseas instead of taking them back to China (i.e. instead of converting them to RMB). This could have resulted in those businesses’ trade numbers being counted by the customs but not by SAFE.
  3. There may be an acceleration in people withdrawing money to flee China.

1. Radio France Internationale, June 21, 2024美国/20240621-美财政部吁中国提高汇率透明度-并澄清贸易顺差数据出现巨额落差
2. Epoch Times, June 22, 2024